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Causes of death among patients with myasthenia gravis in Norway between 1951 and 2001
  1. J F Owe1,
  2. A K Daltveit2,
  3. N E Gilhus1
  1. 1Department of Clinical Medicine, Section for Neurology, University of Bergen, Norway, and Department of Neurology, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway
  2. 2Section for Epidemiology and Medical Statistics, Department of Public Health and Primary Health Care, University of Bergen, Norway, and Medical Birth Registry of Norway, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Bergen, Norway
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr J F Owe
 Department of Clinical Medicine, Section for Neurology, University of Bergen, 5021 Bergen, Norway; jone.furlund.owe{at}


Objective: This study investigated the causes of death among patients with myasthenia gravis (MG), with emphasis on respiratory tract and cardiac disease.

Methods: The Norwegian Cause of Death Register contains information on all deaths among Norwegian citizens. In total, 249 deceased patients with MG were identified (1951–2001). These were compared with 1245 controls deceased in the same period and matched for sex and year of birth.

Results: The death certificates of patients with MG had a significantly higher occurrence of respiratory tract disease as cause of death than controls (28.1% v 20.9%, p = 0.012). The difference was most pronounced for male patients, for patients dying between 30 and 69 years of age, and for deaths occurring before 1996. For cardiac disease there was a significantly lower occurrence among patients with MG than among controls at 50–69 years of age, for both men (19.4% v 52.0%, p = 0.001) and women (14.6% v 29.6%, p = 0.036). Age and year of death were important determinants for the causes of death, but could not account for the differences between the patients with MG and controls.

Conclusions: This study shows that patients with MG dying between 1951 and 1995 had a higher occurrence of respiratory tract disease listed as cause of death than had a matched control group. The lack of difference after 1995 probably reflects improved treatment of MG and its complications. The reduced occurrence of cardiac disease among patients with MG is probably explained by competing factors (respiratory tract disease) causing death.

  • AChR, acetylcholine receptor
  • ICD, International Classification of Diseases
  • MG, myasthenia gravis
  • MuSK, muscle specific receptor tyrosine kinase
  • cardiac disease
  • lethality
  • myasthenia gravis
  • respiratory tract disease
  • thymoma

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  • Competing interests: none